The Fish Story

May Peace Prevail When Beach Smoke Clears; Pipeline Tunneling Begins Beneath Barnegat Bay

By JAY MANN | Jan 09, 2019

SNUFF IT: As of here and now, the state of New Jersey prohibits smoking of any ilk on all beaches and within state parks. Even smoking on the walkways to/from beaches is verboten.

To the average shivering soul still plying our beaches, this month’s official onset of the smoking ban statute would seem of little significance. LBI’s beaches are pretty much people-free and often savaged by blitzing west winds. Nonetheless, there is smoker’s scat even this time of year – take it from someone who frequents the beach more in the off-season than the on. Cigarette butts are a litter for all seasons, evidence of the unspoken attitude “The world is my ashtray.”

Believe me, I fully sympathize with those carrying a yellow-toothed tobacco monkey on their backs. In fact, my amazingly strong dad was easily felled by those stinkin’ death sticks. However, my sympathy flies out the car window when smokers, often in a defiant mindset, finger-flick their butts about with impunity. All that many of us ask of nicotine-dependent souls is that they properly stash their cigarette scat, while recognizing the no-smoking beachline law applies year ’round.

My courteous approach in tow, I’m betting the prevailing beachgoer atmosphere won’t be so conciliatory come summer. With no-smoking laws hanging thick in the air, anyone with even a wisp of smoke rising from their beach vicinity will become an instant beachgoer non grata. I even fret a bit over smoking-related beachgoer interplay. Over the years, I’ve seen ugly exchanges between beach smokers and nearby non-puffers, especially those with kids. Since the newly enacted N.J. law doesn’t specify who will enforce the smoking ban, I foresee what could amount to sand-top vigilantism, a tarry muck-up to an otherwise excellent beach day.

Along those ambiguous enforcement lines, I worry lifeguards will become the default enforcers, as less confrontationally inclined folks run to the stands to report smoking scofflaws. Although sworn in as upkeepers of the law, guards are really not trained to police the heavily peopled beaches behind them. Such distractions distance them from their sworn water-watching duties.

All I’m hoping to do here is get word out regarding the “no-exceptions” smoking ban on public beaches, all seasons. To those sadly addicted to tobacco, this can become the umpteenth reason to quit, something of a seaside detox.

If officially busted for illegal puffing, a first offense fine runs $250, followed by a $500 fine for a second offense and a $1,000 hit for all future violations.

BURROWING THROUGH THE BAY: The Little Egg Harbor portion of Barnegat Bay is being burrowed through … like nothing ever seen in these parts. “It’s alive!”

Sorry, no monster. However, as we speak, heavy equipment is chewing out a narrow tunnel, horizontally, beneath the bay bottom, running 2.72 miles from the east end of West Creek/Dock Road in Eagleswood Township to 99th Street in Beach Haven Park. The hollow is being filled with a mainland-to-Island natural gas pipeline.

Fueling the cross-bay piping effort is New Jersey Natural Gas, which is calling the project the Long Beach Island Reinforcement Project. The pipeline is dubbed “secondary,” meaning it’s a backup to the Island’s lone gas pipe, which runs along Route 72. The new pipeline, if needed, will be fed by a main line beneath Route 9.

By my reckoning, this will be the first mainland-to-Island pipeline placement since utility trenches were long ago dug across the surface of the bay bottom adjacent to the Causeway. Those first lines date back over a century.

Fortunately for the delicate Barnegat Bay ecosystem, the Eagleswood/LBI pipeline crossing is not of a deleterious trenching nature. Per NJNG, the bay bottom’s surface will be undisturbed, thanks to something called a horizontal directional drilling method, advertised as a “no digging” form of pipe laying. HDD features a toothy, below-ground boring device, steered by surface equipment.

According to Nodig Construction, a company that utilizes the technology, “The HDD method is extremely protective towards the environment, causing no ecological damage at all. … Surfaces worth conserving are neither broken up nor damaged.”

The bored-out tunnel will host a 12-inch steel gas pipe, protected by a Powercrete epoxy coating – an environmentally kind, two-part resin able to weather extremely tough down-under conditions. (See powercrete.corrosioncoatings.com).

I’ll be getting more on the smaller details of the project. For now, you might want to steer clear of the West Creek Dock Road work zone, even though part of the work agreement with Eagleswood Township allows for continued public access to “the Pavilion” park area, fronting the bay. Speaking of that park, the township has sold a 900 square-foot portion of it to NJNG for $70,000. The parcel will become a permanent easement area for NJNG to access the pipeline. The municipality is using the money to acquire open spaces within the community.

Despite my loathing of buildout – and the laying of pipelines is at the root of all development – I’m sorta supportive of this pipeline, though only in a clouded-over silver-lining way. With the project being a done deal, a modest silverness comes from this HDD method, which avoids ripping the bay’s already troubled bottom to hell and back. Any advancements that prevent wholesale destruction of the coastline’s remaining environment are better than the proverbial nothing. Such low-impact advances in the development realm are needed – since N.J.’s buildout of the coastline won’t back off until the upcoming Great Atlantic Meteorite Strike of 2044. I really should bring that strike up in one of my future columns, eh?

RUNDOWN: When I was a small fry, a great man in my life sternly told me to “always approach a new year from behind … and slightly to the right.” He then quickly walked off, meaning I had to ponder what the hell that even meant … as he sauntered into the sunset, likely chuckling. To this day, I obediently allow a new year to play out a bit before taking it to heart … approaching it from behind, as it were. As to coming in from the right? I keep thinking that might come clear with each arriving new year. No, he wasn’t even remotely political, so you can drop that biparty notion.

Anyway, holding true to my annual lag-behind new year process, I want to back-slip to the surf fishing awfulness that befell us last fall.

Over my short and memorably uneventful holiday, I spontaneously collected fall fishing reports from places afar. They reached me via a slew of old and new fishing friends showing up for Christmas church Masses on LBI. Many reports stemmed from fairly recent fishing sessions in bassing venues from New England down to Delaware. What I gathered was striperly shocking.

I had assumed we were the sole bearers of bad bassing (and bluefishing) news, but “lousy” and “awful” rang out from many a non-local angler. A common theme: “We had a few good days, but then it suddenly stopped.” Even New England reports were dismal.

Then, outside church environs, I got highly contradictory reports from commercial fishermen. They balked at my write-ups about missing bass by guaranteeing me that the EEZ contains “acres and acres” of stripers. While I’ve never quite understood why fishermen often speak in terms of “acres” of fish, they duly got their point across.

Sure, I wonder if such commercial reads are just an effort to open the EEZ to striper harvesting. However, several commercialites assure me they’re really not that interested in netting stripers. There truly seems to be bass galore, piling up in federal no-keep bass land.

Semi-incongruously, I find myself thinking in terms of white-tailed deer, which have learned to abandon heavily hunted areas for the safety and dining comfort of no-hunting zones. Is it an over-stretch to think stripers have figured out that ocean areas beyond 3 miles out are sanctuaries?

Sure, the notion of stripers jointly wising up to the lethal dangers of inshore waters is profoundly unsciencey. Still, if we’re to figure out what’s going wrong with coastal fishing, we might have to swim outside the box – in this case, outside the box of state-owned waters.

Along those unboxed thinking lines, I need to share a causative notion firmly held by a hardcore angling aficionado, Dave B. He is vociferously convinced that an explosion of the whale population is messing with near-in forage fish, like bunker, sand eels and such. Does the whale recovery spell doom for shoreline stripering?

I won’t touch that too-many-whales thing with a 10-foot rod, knowing the crazed fervor of marine mammal lovers. However, Dave’s suspicion is no more outlandish than a widely held accusation that seals have become the mortal enemy of near-in angling. Not that far north, fishing organizations are mounting protests over the now immense populations of these famed fish-devouring pinnipeds.

I won’t even get into the bad-bassing blame game being extended to include the devilish fish-devouring done by … double-crested cormorants. Down with cormorants!

As theories on the bad fishing run rampant, there remains a core of knowledgeable fishermen who calmly withdraw into the time-proven maxim that fishing has forever run hot and cold. This goes back to before written history. Neanderthal cave paintings show a school of fish followed by an early form of “WTF!?”

I, too, am inclined to drone, “The fish will be back,” though I issue that assurance with far less confidence than in times past. In fact, pondering the national, even global, piscatorial picture, it’s unnerving to see that many fisheries have not simply drifted elsewhere for the time being – to one day prolifically return. Many species that go missing in this day and age aren’t just momentarily gone … they're gone-gone.

jaymann@thesandpaper.net

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